ANTRIM ace Ryan Murray, who is one of four Antrim senior footballers nursing cruciate injuries, is hoping to be back for next season’s Ulster Championship clash with Down.
The Lamh Dhearg clubman is joined on the cruciate rehab journey by county team-mates Conor Stewart, Kevin Small and Patrick Finnegan.
Murray suffered his injury while playing a club game against Creggan Kickhams on April 26 which derailed his season that had already been hampered by a quad muscle tear.
As the quartet set their own respective return dates with Antrim, Murray has no answer as to why cruciate injuries are more prevalent than ever before, especially among female players.
“It’s a question I’ve asked myself over and over again,” said the 30-year-old attacker.
“You’re hearing about them more often, but I just think there is no real reason behind them other than there are maybe just more demands put on the body.
“You’re running faster, players are getting stronger, you’re doing more training, doing more weights.
“Maybe there is a default in the human anatomy, but I’m not educated enough to make proper comment on it.
“I know there’s a lot of research that went into female ACL injuries and why they’re at a higher rate than males.
“But even if you look at Paddy Finnegan, Kevin Small and Conor Stewart – we are all different ages, physically different. There is no correlation. It’s not all small fast players or tall midfielders… it’s just difficult to pinpoint it. At the start you think about all these things a lot but now it’s just wasted energy.”
Murray doesn’t know whether an ongoing quad muscle tear contributed to him suffering a cruciate ligament injury on the same leg.
“I’d torn my quad on the same side just after the first League game and then tore it slightly again against Down in the League and pretty much tore it entirely against Tipperary.
“I didn’t play the rest of the League until the last 20 minutes against Longford with the aim of trying to get fit for Armagh [Ulster Championship match]. I was chasing it all season.
“I was still trying to recover from the quad injury when I did my cruciate and I know the quad muscle is a big stabiliser for your knee.
“I watched the video back numerous times to see if I could notice anything, but my movement didn’t look unusual. Whatever way I twisted on it I knew I’d done something serious. People who’ve suffered the injury talk about a popping sound but I didn’t feel or hear anything like that, but I just knew that it was not normal.”
Murray has been one of Antrim’s most consistent forwards over the last decade. He’s made just one appearance at Croke Park for his county in that time and missed out on last season’s Tailteann Cup semi-final against Meath at headquarters due to his injury.
He found watching Antrim’s Tailteann Cup games desperately frustrating but it was probably more acute not being able to assist Lamh Dhearg’s search for their first county title since 2017.
Had Murray been fit for Declan Bunting’s side, they might well have gone further in the 2023 county championship.
As it turned out, the Hannahstown Road men exited to Dunloy after extra-time in a memorable quarter-final clash at Dunsilly.
“Sometimes you’re thinking, I’ve been playing over 10 years for Antrim, I’ve just turned 30 and I pick up a cruciate injury. We did well in the Tailteann Cup and we played in Croke Park. This was my 12th season with Antrim and I’d played in Croke Park once before, so it was a bit difficult from that point of view of not playing.
“Andy McEntee and all the lads were great and they me feel part of it, but when you’re sitting there watching matches it’s frustrating.
“I found it particularly difficult not being able to play club football. I think I’ve only missed one or two club championship matches in 12 years. So, it was quite hard trying to adjust.
“I felt a wee bit distant towards my football for a time because I couldn’t give anything. When you’re playing football, everything is planned around the next training session, the next match.
“But the positives were, I was able to do other things I would never have got the chance to do. I went to my friend’s wedding abroad; I was best man at another wedding.
“We played Dunloy in the championship that weekend so I wouldn’t normally have been able to go to that wedding.”
Despite not getting a proper run in McEntee’s first year in charge of Antrim, Murray feels the Meath man opened up the squad to fresh young talent.
“Andy’s been brilliant since he’s come in. You can see the difference in the panel make-up; there are a lot of lads involved that haven’t played county football before.
“If there was someone injured, Andy wasn’t afraid to put fresh lads in – and that trust and freshness really came through in the performances.
“We were dominating most games and playing very well but towards the end we maybe didn’t have that experience in closing out games and maybe we were found out a bit. It’s something we got better at during the Tailteann Cup compared to the League.
“But the lads have really bought in to what Andy is trying to bring in and the atmosphere he’s trying to create around the panel, so from that aspect I want to be part of the panel and playing for his team is another motivating factor to get back.”
Murray’s rehab to date has pretty much gone to plan and while he’d love to be back for some of Antrim’s NFL Division Three campaign, the Ulster Championship showdown with Down – anticipated to be in April – is a more realistic target.
“No matter how good your progress is, you’ve a minimum of completing nine months of rehab after the surgery date, so that brings me up to April.
“I’m essentially missing the National League with Antrim, but I’d hope to get back for the Ulster Championship. You need to find yourself a goal and that’s where my mind is at. I’ll do everything I can to make that date.”